Running tights used to simply keep you warm on cold winter days, with a possible side benefit of making you look like Superman. But in the last few years, a new class of highly engineered—not to mention expensive—tights had performance aspirations as well. They claimed to provide pressure on certain muscle groups to increase endurance and aid recovery.
Like any field where there’s exciting, emerging medical research, the marketing claims for these products have out-kicked the scientific studies. In other words, the makers of compression tights would have you believe that these form-fitting bottoms will take loads of time off your trail marathon PR and have you ready to do it all over again the next morning.
But it’s clear something interesting is going on. Compression tights are working off the popularity of the compression socks that many elite runners now swear by. A 2009 study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research showed an increase in running performance while using compression socks. And just as doctors have used compression garments to aid recovery in the lower extremities of injured patients, studies such as this one and this one indicate a faster recovery for athletes who use compression gear. Anecdotal evidence from ultramarathoners, such as the excellent user reviews of runner Jonathan Savage, suggest users have witnessed a performance benefit that science has yet to fully explain.
Better circulation and recovery times are already a common topic of discussion, but one of the most tantalizing new theories about compression tights has to do with the science of resonance. It’s an idea that comes out of the renowned Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Calgary, which over a decade ago floated a theory that competitive running creates intense vibrations throughout the legs. Our bodies’ efforts to manage these vibrations are a primary source of our fatigue. In short, bad vibes limit endurance. The Human Performance Lab has been putting more evidence up to support the theory; it’s been getting more play in public forums; and now it’s driving many of the new design of features of high-performance tights. That’s why you will see mentions of how the products "decrease muscle vibrations" in several company blurbs. Let’s hope they’re onto something.
After the jump, we’ll show you our favorite picks for the season’s warmest, feature-rich compression tights. Hang on to your superhero cape.
The Best Compression Tights: 2XU Elite Compression
The name of the company is 2XU, out of Australia, and it promises that its apparel will provide “increased venous function,” “more oxygenated blood delivered to the muscles,” and “lactic acid flushed from the muscles.” That’s a tall order for a pair of tight pants. Yet we hear many 2XU users rave about increased endurance in long workouts and races, as well as faster recovery. The $139.95 Elite Compression model features antibacterial and moisture wicking fabric, as well as flat-seam construction for increased comfort.
The Best Compression Tights: Salomon EXO III
The new EXO III are the most expensive of the top contenders, at $175, and have the most elaborate system for delivering support to specific muscle groups. Salomon also holds a patent for the compression technology, which it describes as a stretchy grid-like “film laminate” that goes over the tights in certain regions to provide better alignment on trail runs. You can see this grid as a design feature on the outside. Right now the full-length EXO III model is designed only for men, with a 3/4-length EXO III for women.
The Best Compression Tights: Zoot Performance CompressRx THERMOmegaheat+
A favorite, these American-made tights from Zoot boast a mix of compression technologies and nice features for the very cold. The rather exotically named Performance CompressRx THERMOmegaheat+ is actually a blend of 20 percent spandex and plushy material that breathes and provides thermal regulation for your body in variable conditions. The $110 tights also feature reflective logos for night visibility and a back pocket for your car keys.
The Best Compression Tights: CW-X Insulator Endurance Pro
Performance apparel company CW-X has always been one of the biggest names in compression gear for year-round athletes. New this fall are tights specifically for the coldest days, the $134.93 Insulator Endurance Pro with an insulating layer of temp-regulating material to help runners withstand freezing conditions. These anti-microbial tights have compression technologies for reducing muscle soreness and fatigue, on which CW-X holds two patents, the intriguingly named "Wearing article for wearing in pressed relation to human body surface" and the ever popular "Protective clothing for regions of lower limb."
On a less technical level, The tights also have a key pocket! And they are some of the first products in this oh-so-serious apparel category to add color to the typical all-black motif—there are lime-green stripes on both the men’s and women’s design.